What to look for this weekend vs. Cardinals
I certainly know a lot of Falcon fans were disappointed with the outcome of last week’s game. I was too, but if you had read my preview of the game then you knew exactly what was coming. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I think I pretty much nailed that matchup. I’m trying for two in a row.
I watched the Cardinals-Rams game from last week to get prepped for my analysis of this game. And after seeing that game, I have to say that the Rams should have won that game. The Cardinals truly got outplayed, but if not for three interceptions by Sam Bradford, they probably would have lost.
That being said, I don’t expect the Cardinals to lay down for the Falcons. But I don’t see them as nearly a formidable matchup as the Steelers were.
Falcons Offense vs. Cardinals Defense
That is evident when comparing their defenses. Both teams run a 3-4 scheme, but the Cardinals tend to rely on their front three to get upfield and create havoc in the backfield in order to stop the run, while the Steelers are content to let their D-line hold blocks and let their linebackers swarm the ball. That worked to great effect last week vs. the Falcons ground attack. I don’t think the Cardinals usual methods will be as successful. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are very good at what they do, and Campbell really shined in my eyes. That will be a matchup the Cards try to exploit in matching him up against Justin Blalock quite a bit. But I don’t think Blalock will be as easy to beat as Jacob Bell was a week ago. Dockett will get most of his reps against either Tyson Clabo or Harvey Dahl on the right side. And while he certainly will win his share of battles, I don’t think it will be enough to really halt the Falcons ground game. I don’t really know who the Cardinals regular nose tackle is whether it’s Bryan Robinson, Dan Williams, or Alan Branch. But there were several times last week where I saw Jason Brown (Rams center) dominate that player at the point of attack. And while Brown has good 30 pounds of bulk on Todd McClure, I think we can expect to see McClure win a good share of those battles.
So I think the Falcons running game will be able to find the creases it needs to get Turner going. Considering the Cardinals linebackers are nothing to write home about. Daryl Washington is an undersized rookie, and Paris Lenon was the starting MLB on that Detroit Lions defense that gave up 220 yards to Michael Turner in 2008. So I think it’s a fairly good bet that Adrian Wilson will be leading the Cardinals in tackles this week.
Now, the Cards do have a fairly good secondary. Adrian Wilson had an outstanding game last week and still is one of the best in the business. Kerry Rhodes is a solid safety that never really quite fit in New York under Rex Ryan, but is a rangy guy that can make plays all over the field. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) is one of the best corners in the league that doesn’t get a lot of pub. Greg Toler had a nice debut last week with 13 tackles, as the Rams tried to pick on him to avoid DRC. But he’s a physical guy and should be a good one down the road. Think of him like a bigger, stronger version of Chris Owens.
I’m not sure if the Cardinals will use DRC to shadow Roddy. It would be a smart move to do so on their part. He won’t shut down Roddy, but I don’t think he’ll have another 13-catch performance on his watch. So the Falcons will probably try and pick on Toler like the Rams tried to do. And despite fairly strong performances from Harry Douglas and Eric Weems last week given expectations, I’m not sold that’s a matchup that can truly be exploited for big gains on offense without Jenkins in the lineup.
Tony Gonzalez probably won’t be blanketed as well this game as he was last, but as I mentioned earlier, Wilson and Rhodes are a good pair, so I don’t think Gonzalez will have a big, bounce back game.
The real area the Falcons may need to exploit is in the slot. The Cardinals nickel corners had trouble covering Rams slot receivers last week. Danny Amendola had 6 grabs. So that’s one way the Falcons may try to get Douglas or Weems involved, short passes with the potential for big YAC.
So Ryan should have a better game than he did a week ago. He is usually very good at home to begin with, and coupled with the disappointment of last week, he should be poised for an inspired performance at home.
Falcons Defense vs. Cardinals Offense
The Falcons are coming off a strong defensive performance against the Steelers. They weren’t perfect, but they played well given they were without their defensive MVP Jonathan Babineaux. Babs will return this week, and if he’s ready to hit the ground running, the Falcons defense should be poised for another solid performance.
The Cardinals offensive line struggled last week protecting Derek Anderson. The Rams blitz was successful a number of times. And like the Steelers, they feature a pair of slower offensive tackles. And since Kroy Biermann is at least a step quicker than Chris Long, and John Abraham is probably five steps quicker than James Hall, I think we should see the Cardinals O-line continue to struggle. And with Babs in the lineup, the Falcons should be able to generate some pressure up the middle, something they struggled to do last week without blitzing.
And speaking of blitzing, I think the Falcons should go balls to the wall vs. Arizona. Derek Anderson was horrible against the blitz last year in Cleveland, and didn’t look sharp last week. A big part of that is because of his lack of familiarity with the scheme, and him not being on the same page with his receivers. The Falcons shouldn’t be afraid to blitz, although in the early going they may be reluctant given Erik Coleman is out of the lineup. William Moore is expected to make his debut start, and the Falcons may want to limit how much they put on his plate, especially if they roll the dice and blitz a lot. But Moore’s superior speed means that instead of leaving him on islands in coverage, they may be smarter to use him to aid the pass rush.
But with an aggression blitz, it leaves you open for the big play. There were several missed opportunities last week where Anderson missed his receivers. Larry Fitzgerald is nursing a sore knee and reportedly said he only felt like he was at 70% last week. I don’t expect that to be dramatically improved, but even a limited Fitzgerald at 80% is still better than most, and he didn’t look like bad last week. Steve Breaston had a big game as well, and despite their issues at quarterback, the Cardinals have a formidable pair of receivers. If Anderson is on target a few times, it gives them some opportunities to get some big plays.
Dunta Robinson did fairly well against Fitzgerald last year in Houston. But he was allowed to play a lot of press coverage and shadowed Fitz that game. That probably won’t be the case in Atlanta, so there may be numerous times where Chris Owens or Brent Grimes will be matching up four-time Pro Bowler. That isn’t a good scenario.
It would be foolish to think that the Falcons corners will shut down the pair. They’ll have their opportunities, but a key will be if the Falcons can create a lot of third and long situations where the front four can pin their ears back and get after Anderson.
And that will largely rely on the Falcons slowing the Cardinals ground attack. It’s no doubt that the Cardinals want to run the ball to take pressure off Anderson. They did a nice job last week vs. St. Louis, with Tim Hightower and LaRod Stephens-Howling combining for 20 carries and 103 yards. But HIghtower fumbled twice in that game. Beanie Wells is listed as questionable, so even if he does play, I’m not sure he’ll provide a huge boost.
But like the Steelers, the Cardinals do have a lot of size upfront. Their starting five averages 324 pounds. But that’s only if you believe that Deuce Lutui is at his listed weight of 338. Judging from last week, he’s over 350, so it’s probably approaching 330 per lineman.
I don’t expect this to be a high-scoring affair. It could be, but that will probably be contingent on the Falcons defense creating a bunch of turnovers early to give the team an early cushion much like the 49ers game of 2009.
I expect this game to be a bit more like the Redskins game of last year. The Falcons get a comfortable early lead, but Arizona starts to make a game of it towards the end. But the Falcons wind up with the W because that early cushion is too much.
I think the Falcons will be able to create a few turnovers by getting after Anderson. And I think that will force the Cardinals to play from behind, getting away from their ground attack and playing away from their strength which is the ground game.
Last week, I predicted the score of the Steeler game to be 16-13, and I was very close. This week, I’m going to go with 23-17, and the Falcons even up their record 1-1 with a victory.